Four intrepid adventurers set out into the void this past weekend, despite ill portents and against the better judgment of their friends, family, and countrymen. Brave challengers of the unknown, Dave Hearn, Shawn Hill, Eric Muller and Jamil Scalese, all sat down to watch Josh Trank’s new Fantastic Four film (Fant4stic?) and survived the experience.
But did they come back transformed? Perhaps…
Dave Hearn: Fantastic Four. I know you’ve been following the movie since it was announced. What were you thinking before it opened?
Eric Muller: I know I trusted the director, loved Chronicle. Thought the cast was amazing. I was just not sold on the first rumors of Doom being a blogger.
DH: Yeah, that sounded awful. The cast seemed pretty solid but there was a LOT of flack over Johnny Storm. Do you think that’s where the hate started?
EM: As sad as it sounds, yes. I know there a co worker who could not get over the fact that Johnny Storm was black. So sadly I know there was a portion of people who refused to see this movie because of that.
DH: Probably. Personally, I never had a problem with it. Race just isn’t that big a deal in how comic characters are presented other than to say that non-whites are horribly underrepresented in superhero movies.
So, Spoiler-Alert, we BOTH liked Fantastic Four.
I was fully prepared to see a truly awful film. We’ve been making fun of it for weeks now.
EM: Right, based on the embargo and the early reports I was expected something along the lines of Superman 4: The Quest For Peace. Something horribly written and would looked awful. But we did not get that movie.
I felt like the movie we saw and the movie the critics saw were two completely different movies.
DH: Opening night Rotten Tomatoes rated the movie at 9%. 9%!! Batman and Robin rates at 11%. Hell, Howard the Duck is 14%! Fantastic Four isn’t on the same level as these movies at all! Is it Citizen Kane? No. But it isn’t Corman’sFF either.
This interpretation has it’s problems but it is absolutely not a 9% freshness movie. After it was over, I felt that I needed to apologize for dogging it for so long.
EM: I owe Josh Trank and crew an apology cake. This movie does not deserve a 9%.
DH: We’ll send them a cookie bouquet. Gonna keep a couple cookies for myself, though. Because, you know… cookies.
EM: So we might send them an already open bag of oreos. With over half gone.
People seem upset that the movie’s too dark, too serious. That it isn’t Stan and Jack’s FF. Those 60’s comics weren’t the source material. This movies draws much more from the Ultimate Fantastic Four and, I think, it does so very well.
People also forget, Stan and Jack’s Ben Grimm was a pretty dark character. He didn’t become the “Ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing” until later. He began as a disfigured “monster” and Reed was driven to cure him.
Besides, we got that movie in 2005. People hated that one, too.
EM: I thought they did a better job using the source material. The first Fantastic Four movies used the original Lee/Kirby material and they were bad, just bad. This new Fantastic Four uses the ultimate and makes it great. Goes well with the Cronenberg feel, the sci Fi/horror.
And if you want to know something the original Fantastic Four, Lee/Kirby, would have been incredible dark if they went with Stan’s original ideas.
DH: Enlighten me.
EM: In Stan Lee’s original script, Sue can only be seen when she wears a mask of her own face. And Reed stretching caused him great pain.
DH: I agree with you, F4 was a really good sci-Fi/horror film. At least until act 3 when it becomes a full-on action, world-threatening summer blockbuster wannabe.
EM: And that third act is the studio’s fault.
Just researched the first two trailers and yes, something happened after they were released. There is some great action that was cut from the movie. Even from the final fight.
DH: That third act, when Doom is revealed. That was a mess.
EM: They dropped the ball on Doom…again.
I don’t think that Hollywood will ever figure out Doom.
DH: They keep trying to ground him as either a businessman or an emo-genius. That is not Doom. Doom is a ruler. He is royalty. Yes, Doom is arrogant and awful but he cannot be hemmed in by normal descriptions.
He is Doom.
EM: Exactly. There is no reason to ground his character in reality.
DH: Nope. And perhaps that was part of the problem with the third act: it just got too big, too fast and the intimate sci-fi/horror movie morphed into a world-threatening, action flick.
EM: Also Doom’s motives make no sense.
DH: Right. I couldn’t figure out what he wanted other than to “destroy the world.” It felt like a studio committee change.
EM: Also he is on the planet for a year and then decides OK time to kill?
DH: They needed a threat because they felt F4 needed to be a superhero movie. Well, it wasn’t. F4 was about character overcoming a disaster. It was working until that point.
EM: The threat should have been the government. Fear what they will do to our heroes.
DH: In our movie, the government represents the studio
EM: Yes, yes it does.
DH: So, overall, how do you feel about Fantastic Four? Out of 5 possible stars, how many would you give the movie?
EM: Then I would go 2.5 stars. A middle of the road film.
DH: I’m going to say the same. 2.5. I’ll watch it again when it hits video. I enjoyed the first 2/3 of the move quite a bit. If not for the third act, I’d give it 3.5.
If you are relying on Rotten Tomatoes, don’t believe them. Judge the movie for yourself.
EM: Right, based on the Rotten Tomatoes score I was expecting to walk out Green Lantern angry. Instead I walked out Man of Steel confused on what I just saw
DH: That’s perfect!
EM: You’re welcome.
– Dave Hearn & Eric Muller
Ten years ago, I gave the same score to a Fantastic Four film featuring Michael Chiklis and Jessica Alba, and it’s tragic how little has changed. The problem (among many) with that film was a Doctor Doom who was turned into an electric-metal monster by cosmic rays; this time we have a Doctor Doom conjured out of alien green lava with apparently Magneto’s (or is it Terra’s from Teen Titans) power set? Both actors had their performances obscured by ugly techno-organic armor, though it’s unclear if either could have pulled off an actually well-written version of Victor. Toby Kebbell comes off as a pouty blogger before his transformation, whereas Julian McMahon seemed like a standard issue soap opera capitalist.
The rest of the cast is game, though you know when Reg E. Cathey is Franklin Storm and Tim Blake Nelson is the military-industrial overseer that both are doomed to die horrid character-actor deaths. It doesn’t matter that Michael B. Jordan is Johnny now, or that Sue is an adopted Kosovo refugee (actually one of the only interesting points of the script, and some funny lines when she turns on and off her accent) as both actors understand their characters just fine. She’s formidable wielding Sue’s unlikely powers, and Jordan captures Johnny’s wild side as well as Chris Evans did way back when.
That leaves Miles Teller as Reed, and here it’s a script problem as this Reed we follow from childhood to young scientist, and none of that plays to Teller’s strengths. He’s better with the action scenes, which are too few and too late. He does his best with basically non-verbal, awkward flirtation scenes with Sue, but there’s a hell of a lot of hullaballoo about his dimension-swapping space capsules (which we see in at least three versions, over and over) that everyone has to constantly chatter about. As if we didn’t understand the process when he did it to a model airplane the first time. And as if ending up on a walk-on set from Lost in Space was thrilling somehow. Why not actually do the Negative Zone if that’s what you want to do?
There’s a moment when we see the Baxter Building lab when we’re supposed to be impressed by Reed finding his life’s dream at last, and then this is echoed by the same reveal of a second, slightly larger lab at the end of the film. Science is only rooms of computers and pipes, guys.
Did I forget about Ben Grimm? Well, so does the script, for half the movie. He’s brought back in for as little reason as he’s left out, and then turned into a controllable Hulk by the military. I don’t know how to speak of a performance for the CGI monster he becomes, as Jamie Bell is as hampered by proceedings as Teller. I guess the FX are okay for the most part, as the final battle is at least clear and makes good use of stretching, force-fields, flames and strength.
If only they had a reason for fighting other than Doom threatening all reality with his Beyonder-like infinite power. “He’s not stronger than all of us!” says Reed, but he’s pretty much shown that he is, so the stakes of the completely fantastical final fight are much lower than they should be.
Plus the entire movie, including their costumes, is in monochrome shades of gray. When is anyone going to understand that the FF is about a sense of fun and wonder, that they are four-color adventurers and explorers as much as they are a sometimes dysfunctional family? And if you want to have an alien invader from another dimension, why not leave Doom out of it and go straight for Annihilus? At least he’s green and comes with a horde of CGI bugs!
– Shawn Hill
Hey! If you haven’t heard: Fantastic Four isn’t that, erhm, fantastic.
Neither is it good. Or bad. It’s the absence of those grades. It’s a dissertation on nothingness. A long, semi-pleasant look into the void. And the abyss stares back too, but with an apathy that I almost have to respect. This is the Hollywood version of a coloring book.
You can consider the swarm of poor reviews the proverbial cherry on top of a very odd and much maligned milkshake. From the first announcement of Josh Trank’s appointment as director the movie suffered from a steady acclimation of strange tidbits and quotes, pieces of (mis)information that at times seemed hoax-like.
Where to start? The choice of Trank is the natural beginning (if we ignore happenings in 1961 and 2005, which we will, for now). After the surprising and profitable Chronicle, his debut feature, the choice of Trank both seemed peculiar and also encouraging, an indication FOX was willing to take chances with a important, dormant franchise. Soon after, Trank casted Chronicle breakout star Michael B. Jordan in the role of Johnny Storm and the move drew ire from the fanbase. The outcry centered on the race swap of the character, a reaction perpetuated by two sects, dumb racists, and foolish soldiers of comic book continuity.
In quick succession the rest of the roles filled in. Miles Teller as Reed Richards, Jamie Bell as Ben Grimm, (the white) Kate Mara as Sue Storm, Toby Kabbell as Victor Von Doom. It was obvious the studio/director vision of the movie was to lean very young and with the found-footage, coming-of-age Chronicle representing his entire filmography it was quickly speculated, even near-confirmed, that Trask was basically making the same movie except with Marvel’s First Family.
More troublesome quirks followed. Mara revealed that the cast was discouraged from reading the comic books in order to approach the characters from a fresh perspective. Teller cocksurely detailed that he was the one and only choice for Mr. Fantastic, that is, no one else auditioned. A news story hinted that Kebbell played a computer hacker with a Doom-ish surname, a report that the actor firmly refuted in an interview. Jordan penned an open letter for EW commenting on the backlash in regard his casting and stating that the Fantastic Four was “a family movie about four friends”. Within a day of the movie’s release Trank distanced himself from the negative reviews by implying heavy studio influence, and subsequent reports have heavily hinted at burdensome meddling by FOX.
These pellets of information often had me thinking the cast and director were instructed to misinform the press in order to keep the film’s secrets secret. After the successes of Marvel Studios, after the pretty decent The Wolverineand Days of Future Past, how could any of this stuff be true? The blueprint for a quality superhero movie has been lain. What was FOX, et all, thinking?
I’m here to report I still have no goddamn clue what they were thinking.
Fantastic Four is one of the most unique superheroes movies to date. It’s a flavorless effort made to satisfy on a base level and offend few. It takes liberties with the source material and also tries to abide by it, an honorable mix of ambitious and afraid.
It begins by examining the origin of Reed Richards and Ben Grimm bromance, an elementary school partnership that sprouts when the young scientist successfully teleports a Matchbox car to another dimension. Flash forward nearly a decade and Reed and Ben have improved the invention and submit it to the high school science fair, the occasion for an introduction to Dr. Franklin Storm and his adoptive daughter Sue. The doctor quickly recruits the young brain and no one questions why a mind of Reed’s caliber apparently doesn’t understand his invention is a watershed moment in physics and deserving of award ceremonies outside of a gymnasium. It’s also not really addressed why Dr. Storm is there openly recruiting employees for his teleportation project. That’s OK though because it sets a trend of this movie not giving a flying fuck about any type of follow-up.
Jamie Bell is dismissed at this point, back to his junkyard home, never really delivering any type of memorable line or indicating the utility of the Ben Grimm character. He’s replaced with Johnny Storm, a tumultuous mechanic who works on the teleportation project to appease his dad. Von Doom is thrown into the mix, a glib genius with a thing for Sue. He’s not a hacker but he’s got a cool computer setup.
From there the movie kind of fondles itself, attempting to build the relationships between the characters as the shadow of tragedy looms. When the team of inventors are told their promising project will be shipped to a government agency Reed, Victor and Johnny get drunk and decide to use the machine to travel to the other dimension, you know, in the glory of discovery or something. Now if you’ve ever seen The Fly you know Jeff Goldblum got all slimy and scaly by mixing alcohol with self-experimentation. You do not fuck with science.
They bring Ben Grimm along for whatever reason, and that’s works well because he was just laying around in bed fully dressed, so Ever-lovin’ Blue Eyes was all set to go, apparently. The trip quickly spirals into a disaster scenario, and powers are promptly bestowed on Reed, Ben and Johnny after Victor is lost to some volatile green lava. It’s actually a pretty gnarly scene, intense, fatal, and in some spots horrific (you know, for the families!). It has added impact because it’s the first action sequence and embedded deep in the second act, so it kind of shocks you out of the malaise.
Maybe it’s a compliment the movie decided to leave Sue back at home base for this scene. The implication being that she wouldn’t get buzzed and elope to other dimensions like her colleagues. She receives her powers by being kind of close to the explosion caused by the other three returning and it’s important not to think too much about that because you have things to do and I’ve already wasted your time. All four are immediately imprisoned/prodded, by the military (because of course they are) then Reed escapes.
Then the story jumps a year. It jumps a year!
It’s a move designed to accelerate the plot, and by showing that Ben is a loyal solider and that Johnny and Sue can adequately wield their powers it spares us some of the growing pain scenes. I appreciate that because the whole first act was just that. Update the idiom. “Too little, four late”
I present you King Kirby genius paired with Stan the Man brilliance.
That’s how quick it takes to get give the Fantastic Four powers. Their origin, though novel and lasting, is not the fantastic part of their appeal. The franchise is built on so much more than this page, or the content of Fantastic Four#1, or hell, even everything in the first one hundred issues. Fantastic Four has an aggregate greatness to it, and this movie pulls from none of it, keeping the entire scope inside a science lab, a military complex and a ghostly CGI wasteland called Planet Zero (because Negative Zone would have been too risky for the everyman).
The rest of the movie toys with the idea that the characters are heroes. The highlight might be a scene where Johnny speaks to his dad about willingly going on missions due to an underlying sense of duty. Per his fatherly charge Franklin dissents. He doesn’t have to worry about Sue though, she don’t give a roach’s ass about helping the government. Sue was cool in this. I liked Sue.
Reed’s return provides the best action scene in the movie, and it reboots the plot. A trip to the Planet Zero side prompts the return of Victor who is, holy crapballs!, melted to his containment suit and imbued with great power. Doom quickly works to eviscerate Earth in a dual quest to enact revenge and protect Planet Zero from humanity.
Armed with Phoenix-level telekinesis Doom explodes heads and acts out Darth Vader fan-fiction. He tears through everything and creates a black hole that the Fantastic Four must stop. In the ultimate scene Reed and the rest devise a plan to thwart Doom by employing a succession of hijinks that I’m still working out in my head.
In the denouement the quartet recover from their adventure, negotiate their autonomy, and finish out the joint by standing around laughing about being a team.
Let me show you something.
Three panels. It took Stan Lee and Jack Kirby three panels to go from,” we have powers” to “things will be different” to “let’s be good people ’bout it”.
That worked in 1961 because readers already knew characters with powers were either good or bad; superheroism was a given, a part of a social contract with the audience. In fact the origin in Fantastic Four #1 is told as a flashback, the team is already formed and called to action by first page. The same social contract exists today with the world movie audience.
The movie Reed, Ben, Sue and Johnny don’t really pick a side or a stance, they wallow in their various situations for a year. Brooding Ben Grimm punching regular human beings in the face, Sue floating around working on her craft, Johnny eager to be a stooge for the system. I’d say Reed has a redemptive arc but an arc needs to have an end point, right? There are hints of interesting qualities crammed somewhere in these characters, but the script and/or editing refuses to reveal them.
More importantly, there are only faint sinews of familial connections. The strongest by far is the Reed/Ben friendship, but the movies most significant romance is Doom/Sue, which is ugly because Doom’s motivation has rarely, if ever, been Sue’s heart (OK, yeah , Secret Wars, but that’s more about Doom wanting to be Reed) .
No other bonds are formed, it’s fairly egregious. Sue and Johnny don’t act like brother and sister, more like workplace associates. Ben and Johnny don’t have an interaction until one final line at the end, their infamous affectionate rivalry left merely a hint. Reed and Sue seem to be into each other but not enough to drop the pretenses. The core essence of the family concept is omitted by the writers or director or producers or studio. These people are supposed to love each other, annoyingly so, and the only thing that gets in the way of that are freakish aliens, insect armies, underground folk and sea royalty trying to steal your girl.
What’s really rough is the acting is not atrocious, not in the least. First, this a beautiful cast, OMG, so many babes. Kate Mara, yeah sure, but Toby Kebbell too. He makes the tragedy of Doom’s face melting off feel so real.
Reg E. Cathey as Franklin Storm steals the show, a surprisingly crucial presence in the film and a great character for Reed, Sue, Victor and Johnny to bounce off of. I’ll admit I was an annoyed (non-vocal) fan of the mixed race Sue/Johnny dynamic, the whole adoption thing just felt unnecessary, possibly problematic. Make the Storms any race, just the same one. However, the film handled it well, and Cathey’s participation made it a strong point.
Of course Michael B. Jordan’s performance will be discounted by the vapidity of which it is housed. He plays an angrier Human Torch, a neat change from the jovial Chris Evans version. Johnny is in no way a terribly complex character in the comics, so it’s not as if he had a huge task, but nonetheless, Jordan did as well as anyone.
Mara was more than fine as the strong-headed and scrupulous Sue, and Teller was adequate, charming even, despite Reed acting a little too sleepy about the whole thing.
Bell and Kebbell share a similar dilemma, their CGI forms are far more interesting than their human selves. The Thing’s journey is the most complete and comic-accurate thread of the whole damn endeavor. The diminutive Jamie Bell doesn’t excel at a human Grimm but his voice acting portrayed a good bit of what fans love about one of comic’s best creatures.
Of course, of course, Dr. Doom is a problem. The character is a monolith. Fabulously layered and a giant part of the appeal of the Fantastic Four. What can I say? Did Trank and co. deliver a perfect Doom? No. Hell no. Was it better than the last iteration? By parsecs. I was giddy when he ‘sploded Tim Blake Nelson.
Naturally, the Thing’s computer animated body is the centerpiece of the scenery. He’s awesome, towering and melancholy, and, generally, the big four’s powers are fun to look at. Still, the execution on the special FX end of things is unspectacular, yet serviceable. The dark aesthetic has been noted as one of the prime indicators of a big directional mishap. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true, Jonathan Hickman had a frequently shadowy run as depicted by Steve Epting , Sean Chen and Dave Eaglesham, Paul Mounts and more.
Dark can work, this is merely dim. The rumblings regarding the movie’s inspirations were rumored to be borrowed from the Ultimate version of the Fantastic Four. That seems true in a very loose sense, the only real tonal ingenuity is a touch of modernization and a harder sci-fi feel. Elements like the teleportation origin and Dr. Storm’s presence are there but any energy that was contained in the 2004 comic fails to show up on the reel. Frankly, Ultimate Fantastic Four was never a much-lauded work, and if it had any merit it’s because it really asserted itself in subsequent volumes. I will say this, Miles Teller would make an unbelievable Maker.
The natural bouncy of the FF brand never really forms. The 2005 Fantastic Four had lightheartedness in spades and this project countered that by emphasizing the adventurer, high-danger aspect. I liked that gist, I craved it actually, so this wasn’t all bad.
Fantastic Four is a wonky movie, and what surprises me the most is that it appalls as much as it impresses. Maybe it was that early string of nasty media or the wave of reviews proclaiming flaccidity but I went in expecting little and I came out feeling the same.
The movie doesn’t disrespect the Fantastic Four, it just horribly adapts it. Vanilla is not applicable. That’s dessert, this is air. Better luck next time, FOX, and I truly mean that.
– Jamil Scalese
This article originally appeared on Psycho Drive-In. Visit Psycho Drive-In for great geek entertainment analysis and reviews!